Each religion has a set of standards in order for marriages to thrive and develop. You will find that the Baha’i Faith, in particular, offers some very simple, yet profound, directions for the formation of healthy marriages which will contribute to a unified world. These guidelines are available for anyone, regardless of their belief background, to utilize as they prepare for marriage, grow into a couple and struggle through the unavoidable challenges of life together. While so many of the teachings of each religion remain constant, here are nine distinctly unique aspects of Baha’i marriage:
1. When selecting a potential marriage partner, investigating the person’s character is regarded as the most essential element.
Baha’i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever.1
It truly is the character of someone that will endure through all the changes and chances of this worldly existence. All the other aspects that surround a person, such as careers, financial position, health and appearance, have the potential to shift, and sometimes quite dramatically, during the course of their life. Digging deep into how a person copes with difficult decisions, their views on equality or how they act around their family, can be the most effective path to ensuring a long-lasting marriage.
2. Chastity is encouraged before marriage.
The proper use of the sex instinct is the natural right of every individual, and it is precisely for this very purpose that the institution of marriage has been established.2
Although this is not a common practice in many cultures today, this simple principal has the potential to eliminate so many challenges currently plaguing society, from health issues to children growing up without the support of both parents. When sex is surrounded by the safety and love that a healthy marriage can offer, its latent capacity to bond, unite and provide joy becomes truly evident.
3. After the couple decides to get married, permission from all four parents is required.
…marriage is dependent upon the consent of both parties. Desiring to establish love, unity and harmony amidst Our servants, We have conditioned it, once the couple’s wish is known, upon the permission of their parents, lest enmity and rancour should arise amongst them.3
The road to a peaceful humanity will sometimes include measures such as this to ensure that the nucleus of society, the family unit, has a firm foundation to build upon. In addition to strengthening the unity within the family, seeking parental permission provides another way for the character of the individual to be investigated from another angle. Parents are encouraged to set aside any prejudices, trivial attachments or ulterior motives when pursuing this goal and instead focus on sincerely assisting their children to make the right choice. Having the support of the immediate family can help the couple tremendously when facing the inevitable tests of life.
4. The couple performs the ceremony themselves.
When a Baha’i marriage ceremony takes place, there is no individual, strictly speaking, who “performs” it- no Baha’i equivalent to a minister of the Church. The couple themselves perform the ceremony by each saying, in the presence of at least two witnesses, the prescribed verse “We will all, verily, abide by the Will of God.” This ceremony is performed under the authority of a Spiritual Assembly which has the responsibility for ensuring that the various requirements of Baha’i law, such as obtaining the consent of the parents, are met, to whom the witnesses must be acceptable, and which issues the marriage certificate.4
Other than the vow and witnesses, the rest of the wedding is entirely up to the wishes of the couple. This element makes it very adaptable to a wide variety of cultures and tastes. You do not have to be a Baha’i to participate in this ceremony and Baha’is are allowed to be married in another religious service, in addition to this one, provided it doesn’t require them to recant their Faith.
5. The union of the husband and wife is regarded as an eternal spiritual bond.
The true marriage of Baha’is is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God.5
Not many things are considered eternal in this life. It is comforting to know that the one you have chosen to be your supporter and helpmate in this material world, will join you on the next stage of your soul’s journey.
6. Maintaining unity between the couple is a constant, lifelong goal.
Baha’u’llah came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, one must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it, and one of the keys to the strengthening of unity is loving consultation.6
Many people would agree that it’s often much easier to accomplish something on your own, rather than in a team, where there are so many differing opinions, ideas and personalities. And seeing as marriage is a team environment, the same challenges apply! Appreciating the value of diversity, using consultation to solve difficult decisions and deferring to one another when necessary, can all assist the couple to continue to progress towards harmony.
7. A fundamental purpose is to bring children into this world.
The Baha’i Teachings…raise marriage to the status of a divine institution, its chief and sacred purpose being the perpetuation of the human race…7
The security of a loving marriage is the perfect environment for a soul to start their journey into this life. Although this is an incredibly important aspect from a Baha’i perspective, it doesn’t mean that a marriage is invalid if the couple cannot have children, for whatever reason.
8. The husband and wife are considered equal in the eyes of God.
The Happiness of Mankind will be realized when women and men coordinate and advance equally, for each is the complement and helpmeet of the other.8
Although in many cultures around the world, the advancement of the status of women has improved, there is still quite a long way to go for the complete recognition of the equality of men and women. This teaching is particularly important in the context of marriage, where the chance of dominance, unfair financial allocation and abuse is, unfortunately, very high. It is important to note that equality doesn’t mean uniformity but rather, as the quote implies, that both the husband and wife have the same opportunities to advance and contribute to the household decisions.
9. Divorce is allowed, but only after a “year of patience” has been completed.
Should resentment or antipathy arise between husband and wife, he is not to divorce her but to bide in patience throughout the course of one whole year, that perchance the fragrance of affection may be renewed between them. If, upon the completion of this period, their love hath not returned, it is permissible for divorce to take place.9
There is no doubt that maintaining a healthy, joyful marriage takes a lot of hard work and persistence. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a couple finds themselves at a point where they need to take a break, live apart and seek professional help to assist them with the issues they are facing. The hope is that the “year of patience” will help to re-establish respect and connection between the couple and prevent the often devastating consequences of divorce.
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the writings of Abdu’l-Baha, no. 86.1 [↩]
- A Letter on Behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Compilations of Compilations, 1.145 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, pp. 65 [↩]
- Letter on Behalf of the Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 1284 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha [↩]
- The Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, no. 734 [↩]
- On Behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations, 2:2316 [↩]
- Abdu’l-Baha, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p.253 [↩]
- Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, Pages 34-49: gr68 [↩]